Thursday, March 02, 2006

Fax machines are stupid

If you'll recall, when Allan and I had our Office Depot experience, we were returning an all-in-one printer/scanner/copier/fax product. Instead, we bought a standard network-ready color laser printer, and a really, really, really cheap all-in-one printer/scanner/copier/fax, just to serve as a low-volume copier/scanner/fax machine. (Aside: the two machines were actually $1 cheaper than the expensive combo machine.)

So, of course the inevitable day arrived when I had to send my first fax. Like fax users everywhere, I dutifully printed out the document I wanted to fax, signed it, made a cover sheet, then stood in front of the fax machine trying to figure out how this thing worked. Does the paper go in face-up or face-down? Do I have to dial it before I put the paper in, or after? Do I dial a "9" to get to an outside line?

After about 10 minutes of being thoroughly unsuccessful, Allan walks by and informs me that he doesn't think we have the analog line yet installed to connect the thing to the PSTN. Doh!

I think fax machines are about the dumbest pieces of office equipment imaginable today. Do-dads like paper clips, staples, and Post-It's have earned iconic status, finding their niche in the office ecosystem forever. Fax machines, on the other hand, are Neanderthal throwbacks to the period before the modern Internet. The problems with fax machines are numerous:

  1. Why do we always print out whole documents and fax around unchanged sheets of paper all the time? I have gotten into the habit of just faxing signature pages, trying to do my little bit for the environment.
  2. Why doesn't the fax machine generate the cover sheet automatically? It has the local number, the remote number, and the number of pages. I suppose you'd need to tell it the name of the person to deliver it to, but for routine faxes between two people, that could easily be on a speed-dial list.
  3. Isn't email simpler? Given that virtually every page that gets transmitted between fax machines originates in a computer first and is then printed, can't we just start using digital signatures to sign documents and then email them?
  4. Fax machines frequently have to have their own dedicated lines. They are analog devices, so your alternatives are to buy a dedicated analog interface card for your PBX (expensive even with Asterisk if you have mostly digital handsets), or get a dedicated analog line from the PSTN.

Of course, we went the route of getting the dedicated PSTN line. And of course we're still waiting for that to be installed...

Fax machines are stupid.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave,
I too got fed up with faxes, just use something like faxaway or better yet, build the feature into a "small business" Open Source router project!

//anton

Mon Mar 06, 05:34:00 PM 2006  

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